Every Wave Obeys

While researching my book on John Newton, I found a riveting letter he wrote at sea to his wife Polly, during the busy hurricane season of 1751. Here’s what he wrote (Works 5:377–8):

We have another heavy gale of wind, and it is not easy to sit fast, or to hold a pen; but, as the distance between us is lessening at the rate of seven or eight miles per hour, I am willing to fill up my paper as fast as I can.

I wish I had words to convey some idea of the scene around me: but it cannot be fully described. A faint conception may be formed from pictures, or prints, of a storm at sea.

Imagine to yourself an immense body of water behind you, higher than a house, and a chasm of equal depth just before you: both so apparently dangerous; that you could hardly determine which to venture; and both so near, as not to allow you a moment’s time to choose; for in the twinkling of an eye the ship descends into the pit which is gaping to receive her, and with equal swiftness ascends to the top on the other side, before the mountain that is behind can overtake her. And this is repeated as often as you can deliberately count to four.

It is indeed wonderful, that a ship will run incessantly over these hills and dales, for days and weeks together, (if the gale lasts so long,) without receiving the least damage, or taking any considerable quantity of water on board; and yet never be more than four or five yards from a sea, which, if it was quite to reach her, would perhaps disable her beyond recovery, if not beat her to pieces at a single blow.

Need we go farther for the proof of a Providence always near, always kind, kind to the unthankful and the evil? For, though these marks of his care are repeated every minute, they are seldom acknowledged by seamen. For my own part, I see dangers so numerous and imminent, that I should be always in anxiety and fear, could I not submit myself and all my concerns to Him who holds the waves of the sea in the hollow of his hand, as the prophet strongly expresses it; so that, when most enraged by the winds, I am sure they dare not rise a single inch beyond his permission.

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